Monday, June 6, 2011

It's Unfair !

Last week my wife and I were all set to see Aida, the Verdi opera that is being produced at Massada. It is a huge spectacle that has drawn attendees from around the world. Knowing the opera would end very late and that it would be a long ride home, we decided to take advantage of special bus transportation from Jerusalem organized for the event. The tickets were expensive. The anticipation high. We talked about how special this would be for weeks. This was to be an experience!
We got to the designated pick-up spot 45 minute early. We were eager and excited.
And we waited..and waited..and waited. We saw no others who looked like they were going to the opera, and no trace of the bus. Finally, exasparated, we tried calling others who might know. No one could be reached. And then, then we took a second look at the tickets, and we realized. We had made a mistake, a terrible mistake, a two hour mistake. We misread the times. The bus left two hours before the time we anticipated!

Missing events is a theme this week.It is one we find in the parsha of B'haalotcha. There the Torah tells us of the Passover that was celebrated the second year after the Exodus, the only one marked by our ancestors in the wilderness. The Torah tells us that their were those who had a problem with the Passover. They were ritually impure and prohibitted from bringing the Paschal lamb. They came to Moshe and complained, "why should we be held back from bringing the sacrafice of Hashem in its proper time together with the People of Israel."

Moshe brought their complaint to G-d and indeed we received the laws of Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover, a month after the first. Pesach Sheni was designated specifically for those who, for good reason, could not bring the Passover at the
time of the initial holiday. They are given a make-up date, to bring the offering and celebrate a dimension of the chag.

The Talmud in tractate Succah tell us that those who came and complained about being left-out of the Passover experience were,in fact, ritually impure because they were caring for a 'met mitzvah' a dead person who had no one to bury him/her. Their ritual impurity was not a matter of choice but rather an obligation, as the Torah insists we defile ourselves to care for the dead who have no one to bury them.
Moreover the Talmud tells us that they had completed the purification process prior to the time of the Passover. They were simply waiting for nightfall to be able to enter the sacred space and partake of the holy.

Question we might ask is, from where does the Gemara know those who were insistant that they not be excluded were defiled through a 'met mitzvah'? How do they see it in the verses? The Talmud derives from the language of the 'pasuk' that those who wanted to partake of the ritual already had completed their purification. But what's the source for the idea that they were involved in doing another mitzvah?

I think to understand the intent of the Gemara we need to take a second look at the story of the Pesach Sheni. At first glance it appears that the complainants got what they wanted. They wanted to be included in the Passover rites, despite their ritual impurity and they we given the opportunity, albeit a month later. But on keener reflection the truth is the complainants did not in fact get what they wanted. In the verse we quoted above we read that those ritually impure wanted to mark the Pesach "...together with the People of Israel". They did not want to be excluded. They felt it unfair that they miss this time to join with their brothers and sister in partaking of the special rites. When Hashem gives them the make-up date its some solace but only partial. They remain unable to bring and eat the Paschal lamb with the nation marking its first anniversary of the Exodus. They remain excluded in the celebration of the People. Pesach Sheni indeed gives the ritually impure a chance to fulfill the mitzvah of the 'korban pesach', the paschal lamb, but now its a private celebration, without the joy of solidarity with all Israel.

Whats the message here for you and me? What was Hashem telling our forebearers in the wilderness and, by extension, us? For me the message here is that all life, even religious life, has rules. When rules are in place even though they may feel unfair, they nonetheless are operable and the consquences are in force. The laws of ritual purity and impurity are Torah principles that effect our relationship to the holy.Yes, it may be true that to be excluded from a national celebration because of such rules seems unfair, is unfair. Yet thats the way it is!

The Talmud in Succah was stressing this crucial point. They told us that those who came wanting to be included in the Passover rite with their brothers and sisters might well have become impure because they were doing G-d's will in caring for a 'met mitzvah' and might even have virtually completed their purification process. Still, while they were given a chance later to bring the offering, they remain on the sidelines as the rest of Israel brought the Passover on the 15th of Nisan. Was it unfair, as they argued? Very much so! But life, and yes, even Torah law in particular situations can be unfair. Our task is to accept the reality, bitter as it may sometimes feel, as the will of the Divine. Sometimes loving G-d, loving the life He has given us, and loving His Torah, when it feels unfair, is the greatest expression of devotion.

A hasid once came to his rebbe and in tears shared what he felt was a terrible problem. He said," Rebbe help me! Whenever I daven to Hashem I have unbidden thoughts that enter my mind. No matter how much I try I can't seem to keep my 'kavana', my intentions, focused on the holy." The Rebbe told him in response, "Who said G-d wants your intentions. Maybe G-d wants your struggle!"

Life is unfair. We missed Aida and our tickets were wasted (though it could well be argued we had only ourselves to blame). Those ritually impure, no matter how noble the reason for their being in that state, cannot celebrate the Passover meal with their People. Over and over, day after day, we experience the unfairness of life, and yes, even in matters of faith and Torah law.

The challenge for us is not to waste useless energy cursing our fate or invested in anger over our circumstances. Rather we are called upon to see the unfair that befalls us as part of the Divine plan and to use it as an opportunity to love G-d even when our experience feels unjust. Who knows if that is not the very reason that which feels unfair befalls us.

Unfair, yes. Now let's love our G-d in the unfairness!

Chag Samayach
Shabbat Shalom

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. I think I often reach the level of not blaming G-d for unfairness in my life, but the idea of using the unfairness to get CLOSER to G-d, to please him with my struggle -- is new and much appreciated.